Thursday, 23 November 2017

Roka, Canary Wharf, The Bottomless Brunch

Last weekend I enjoyed my first ‘bottomless brunch’, at Canary Wharf’s outpost of Roka, the award winning Japanese restaurants of Rainer Becker.

I was joined by my brother Dan and two friends for a Saturday afternoon treat and Roka didn’t disappoint.

I wondered if the vibe would be a little stilted on a Saturday at Canary Wharf, but it was buzzy and the clientele was a mix of groups of friends like us, couples and even families with children.

The decor is super modern and slick with the central theme being around the robata grill, which is open plan in the centre of the restaurant, so diners can view and engage with the cooking process.

On arrival we had the option of a bellini or a bloody Mary, both divine, whilst we mulled over the menu for our mains.

For the remainder of the meal, we had the ‘bottomless’ wine which in our case was the white, Le Anfore, dry and crisp and fruity with notes of elder flower, but very drinkable. I noticed an entire wall of wine, so if I returned I’d be interested to delve into that a little more and see what wines would be paired with the various dishes.

Once mains were selected we were invited to try the selection of appetisers from the counter, an Aladdin’s cave of treasure, that you could re-visit as you wish.

The buffet at Roka
Soba, cold noodles, Roka

Roka's buffet selection included soba, cold noodles, sushi, salads, an array of hot meat dishes cooked on the robata grill and hot noodles and soups as well as some tempura vegetables and little bowls of Japanese savoury snacks such as fiery rice crackers, wasabi peas and some unusual crispy slithers of which I’m not sure what you would call them.

Standout dishes for me from the vast array available, included the sashimi salmon and tuna, super fresh and tender, the padron pepper tempura, which were a complete revelation and insanely good and the katsu pork (thinly sliced pork fried in panko breadcrumbs. The sticky and sweet glazed chicken wings and the tomato salad were also fantastic, and the rest of the group were raving about some sliced lamb which had been cooked in an aromatic, sticky marinade.

Just as we were nicely sated after the buffet, a very welcome surprise dish of pork gyoza arrived at the table. These were fantastic, soft in the main but with one crispy fried edge and with tender, flavourful, herby pork inside. They inspired me to cook dumplings myself on Sunday, Potstickers and some wontons, of which I’ll share the recipe soon.

Gyoza at Roka

For the mains, three of us chose the same meal, the grilled rib eye with spring onions. In fact, Dan and I shared one of these and one of the tiger prawn and vegetable tempura dishes, a kind of Japanese surf & turf.

We all opted for ‘rare’ for the steak and it was absolutely delicious and so well cooked, to the point it just melted in the mouth. It had been marinated in the most intoxicating combination of flavours and was pretty damn near perfection. 

Rib eye from the robata grill at Roka

The tempura was also fantastic, succulent, juicy and fresh prawns, just cooked and in a light as a feather, but packed full of flavour batter. So good. 

Prawn tempura at Roka

The waiter was very prompt at refilling our glasses as soon as they were even a little empty, so by the time we were through with the mains, we were beginning to feel a little tipsy.

The finale at Roka’s brunch, is the dessert platter which arrives in a stone bowl filled with crushed ice and was absolutely beautiful to behold.

Fantastic dessert platter, Roka

It included a selection of fresh fruit, lovely and light and refreshing after our meal.

Alongside the watermelon, grapes and pineapple,was a sensational chocolate, milky pudding which somehow managed to be both rich and light. This was topped with an amazing nut brittle, drizzled with a caramel sauce and with a little banana ice cream on the side. Literally to die for.

Also on the platter were a couple of green tea panna cottas dusted with matcha, which looked fantastic, and went down well around the table.

We opted for the cheaper brunch of a selection of three, which at £49.00 per person, offers good value.

If I had any complaint, it would be that some of the ‘hot’ food on the buffet was slightly lacking in warmth, but that is being pernickety.

We all enjoyed and I’m keen to return to Roka soon, especially to try their tasting menu, which sounds divine. In the meantime I’m going to be on the hunt for my next bottomless brunch.

For more reviews of Japanese restaurants in London please see below:

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Slow Cooked Beef and Lentil Curry

This curry is a slow cooked sensation; warming, hearty and filling with plenty of goodness.

This dish is filling on it's own but can also be served with some rice or breads.

Using braising steak, makes it an economical family meal, but it does take a few hours to cook. It takes very little preparation though, I like to cook it on a Sunday, for dinner on Monday or Tuesday. There’s nothing better than returning from work to such a delicious, already-prepared meal.

The below serves 3-4

Slow Cooked Beef and Lentil Curry

Here’s how:
  • 400g braising steak
  • 6 sping onions
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 chillies
  • 3cm piece of fresh ginger
  • 1 tin tomatoes
  • 400g passata
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp garam masala 
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 150g red split lentils
  • Rapeseed or groundnut oil
  • Water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Handful fresh coriander leaves
  • 1-2 tbsp natural yoghurt (optional)
Firstly drizzle about a tablespoon of the oil you’re using into a heavy bottomed pan and place on a low heat.

In the meantime, finely slice the spring onions, garlic, chillies and ginger and add to the pan to offer some great base flavours.

Whilst these are sauteeing in the pan, take the braising steak and cut into large chunks. Take the salt and pepper (I use white) and season generously. You can omit the salt if preparing for small children.

Add to the pan to sear, turning to ensure every side of the meat pieces are browned.

Now add the chopped tomatoes and passata, stir well and continue to cook on a low heat for an hour. Ensure to stir every so often, to make sure it isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Rinse and drain the lentils and add these to the pan now, cook for a further 1.5 hours, continuing to stir every so often. If the liquid of the dish reduces significantly and you're worried about it being too thick, add a little water.

Before seving with your choice of accompaniments, roughly chop the coriander, retaining a few leaves for garnish, and stir through the chunky curry.

Once dished up, add the yoghurt on top and scatter over the remaining coriander leaves. Enjoy!

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Turkey and Vegetable Parsnip Topped Pie

This is a great dish for kids, a slightly healthier, reduced calorie and fats version of a cottage pie, using turkey mince instead of beef (or lamb in a shepherd’s pie) and topped with mashed parsnip instead of potato, for an extra helping of their five-a-day. 

I know many parents say how fussy their kids are and that they detect a hidden vegetable from a five-mile radius, luckily not so much at our house, mine both readily tuck into most vegetables but I’m always looking to offer more and ensure they have a well balanced diet. 

You can top this pie up with any number of vegetables, I use diced carrots, frozen peas and sweetcorn, sliced celery and of course the mashed parsnip topping. You could top up with lentils, sweet potato, courgettes, squash, aubergine - the list is endless, just include your kids’ favourites. 

The below makes enough for 4-6 ramekins of the Turkey & Veggie Parsnip Topped Pie or one large dish, and it freezes well too so is great for batch cooking for busy parents, and let’s face it whether you work or are at home with your kids all the time, we’re all busy!

Turkey and Vegetable Parsnip Topped Pie

Here’s how;

  • 300g turkey mince
  • 1 onion
  • 2 sticks celery
  • 1 large carrot
  • 2 handfuls frozen peas
  • 2 handfuls frozen sweetcorn kernels
  • 1 Knorr Beef Stock Pot
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 3 large parsnips
  • 1 tbsp Grana Padana or other hard cheese 
  • Couple of drizzles olive oil

Firstly peel and dice the parsnip and bring to the boil in a pan of water. Once boiled, you’ll need to cook for another 10-15 minutes, test with a fork to see if it’s soft enough to mash. Mash with a little drizzle of olive oil and set aside for the moment.

Now pre-heat the oven to 180.

In the meantime add another drizzle of olive oil to a pan and place on a low heat. 

Peel and dice the onion and finely slice the celery, add to the pan to gently saute. 

Peel and dice the carrot and add to the pan.

Once softened, add the mince and allow to brown. Break up gently with a spatula to avoid it all clumping together. Once it has started to brown, add the black pepper and cinnamon.

Now add the peas and sweetcorn and any other vegetables you’re adding. 

Make up the Knorr Beef Stock Pot or alternative stock, to about 50-75ml. Pour it over the meat and allow to simmer for ten minutes. 

Remove from the heat and spoon the meat into ramekins or a larger pie dish. 

Now spoon over the top the parsnip mash and smooth down flat with the back of a spoon.

Finally scatter over the Grana Padana and place into the oven to bake for 30 minutes or until the topping is golden brown. 

Ensure to remove from the ramekin for serving to allow it to cool quicker for children. Enjoy!

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Banana and Berry Breakfast Muffins

I love making these with Bridget as they have all the fun of baking cakes, without some of the naughtier stuff and are a great breakfast alternative. 

They provide energy with their oaty goodness and the only sugars are from the honey, a drop of vanilla and the naturally occurring ones from the fruits. Adding in the chia seeds is like a little health boost for the children too - and they can't see them in the muffins so won't turn their nose up at them.

They are a great snack to pop into a lunchbox too and the below makes about 24 so these are perfect if you have a bunch of children round too and want a treat without oodles of sugar.

Banana and Berry Breakfast Muffins

Here's how:
  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g rolled oats
  • 50g dessicated coconut
  • 1 tsp bicarb
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds
  • 2 bananas
  • 75g frozen mixed berries
  • 4 tbsp natural yoghurt
  • 85ml olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp honey

Firstly pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees and line a couple of muffin tins with cases.

Firstly weigh out all of the dry ingredients (four, oats, dessicated coconut, bicarb, chia seeds) into a large bowl, mix and set aside. 

Now in a smaller add the yoghurt, eggs, olive oil, vanilla and honey and combine well. It will be a bit of a miss-match at this stage, but make sure the egg yolks get broken up and this will be fine. 

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix well until you have a thick cake batter.

Now peel the two bananas and mash well into a small bowl, then fold into the cake batter.

Add the frozen in berries in last and mix to evenly distribute.

Place 1 large tablespoon of cake batter into each muffin case.

Place into the oven and allow to bake for 25 minutes, or until they are well risen, and the topping is a beautiful golden brown. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Quick Thai Salmon Noodle Soup

Few things are as comforting as a bowl of nourishing noodle soup and this Thai salmon one tastes great, is full of goodness that can be thrown together in no time at all. Win, win.

The great thing about this is you can add any number of vegetables - just use what you have in stock. It's great with a variety of mushrooms that really soak up and take on the flavour of the soup, and topped up with fresh beansprouts before serving for a welcome crunchy.

The below serves two.

Quick Thai Salmon Noodle Soup

Here's how:
  • 2 fillets of salmon
  • 100g mushrooms
  • Handful broccoli florets
  • 2 tbsp sweetcorn
  • 4 spring onions
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1 red chilli
  • 3cm piece of ginger
  • 1 tbsp Thai green curry paste
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 lime
  • Tin coconut milk
  • Handful fresh chives and coriander
  • 1 portion of rice noodles (I use Mama)

Firstly pour the sesame oil into the heavy bottomed saucepan and place on a medium heat.

Finely slice the spring onions, chilli and garlic and add to the pan and allow to saute for a few minutes.

In the meantime, slice the mushrooms and set aside, and half the lime and put to one side for the moment too.

Peel and slice the ginger and add to the pan with the green Thai curry paste and broccoli florets and stir.

After a few minutes add the coconut milk, fish sauce and soy sauce.

Meanwhile use this time to carefully remove the skin from the salmon fillets and chop into chunky, bite-sized pieces. 

Add the salmon to the pan at the same time as the mushrooms and sweetcorn.The salmon will only take a few minutes to cook through and you don't want over-cooked fish which will turn rubber and tasteless. It'll be easy to tell when the salmon is cooked as you can see the colour-changing from a deeper red opaque to a lighter pink.

As you can see the colour of the salmon changing, add the rice noodles to the liquid, push them down so they're fully immersed in the cooking liquid. After one minute, remove the soup from the heat and allow to stand for a moment.

Squeeze over all of the lime juice and serve in deep bowls. Scatter over some coriander leaves and some chopped chives and add a touch or sriracha if you like a a hit of extra spice. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Chicken Cacciatore

Legend has it that the traditional version of this dish was made by the wives of Italian’s to greet them after a hard day’s hunting - cacciatore = ‘hunter’s style’.

In my house it is simply a wonderful and delicious dish to greet the entire family after a day of various activities.

The method and ingredients vary depending on different regions of Italy and mine veers towards Northern Italy with the use of white wine over red. I also invariably use smoked bacon when I don't have any pancetta in my fridge, and this works equally well. Recipes are invariably adaptable.

I use economic and flavourful chicken thighs and drumsticks here for a hearty dish, but you could just as easily use breast meat and rabbit is also often used in Italy.

You could serve with any rice, polenta or potato but I love this served on fresh tagliatelle - it's delicious, and the soft buttery ribbons soak up the sauce perfectly.

The below serves 3-4.

Chicken Cacciatore

Here’s how:

  • 6-8 chicken pieces (I use thighs and drumsticks) 
  • 1 large carrot 
  • 3 cloves garlic 
  • 5 spring onions 
  • 2 rashers of smoked bacon, or 3 pancetta slices (you could also use cured ham such as Prosciutto) 
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes 
  • 100g mushrooms 
  • 1 large glass of white wine 
  • 1 tbsp dried rosemary 
  • Sea salt 
  • Black pepper 
  • 2 tbsp olive oil 
  • Handful fresh parsley 
Firstly pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees (if you need to speed up the cooking process then 180).

Now drizzle the olive oil into a pan and place on a medium heat.

Generously season the chicken pieces all over and place into the hot pan to sear. Ideally you want them to be a little brown, turn them over to sear all round.

In the meantime finely slice the spring onions and garlic and place into a casserole dish.

Peel and finely dice the carrot and add to the dish.

Slice the mushrooms and set aside for now.

Also roughly chop the parsley and also set aside.

Once seared, add the chicken to the casserole dish.

Cut the bacon or pancetta into small squares and add to the chicken fat to cook for 3 minutes, turning once. Now add to the casserole dish.

Now add the chopped tomatoes, white wine and rosemary to the dish and stir well.

Give a final seasoning of black pepper, place the lid on top or cover with a tight foil lid and place into the oven for 1 hour and forty five minutes. Cooking at a low temperature for this long, yields really juicy, tender chicken that falls off the bone with a simple prod of the fork. As I mentioned, if you’re struggling for time, you can speed things up and turn the oven onto 180 degrees and cook in 45-50 minutes, but a longer approach gives a better, richer and more intensely sweet flavour.

For the final 15 minutes of cooking time, remove the dish from the pan, add the sliced mushrooms and stir well then return to the oven without the lid.

Serve the chicken cacciatore on top of fresh tagliatelle and throw over the parsley as a final flourish.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Simple Spiced Chicken Tagine

This is a great, hearty winter warmer - rich and aromatic, delicately spiced and full of flavour but a sweetness running through from the apricots, honey and cinnamon that makes it suitable for all the family to enjoy.

I've used chicken here, but it's easily adaptable to the meat of your choice, and likewise you could try different dried fruits and vegetables or beans too. Also if you don’t own a tagine a casserole dish will work well enough.

I use chicken thighs and brown the meat off first as I don’t like the texture of the skin if you don’t do this simple step first, but you could use any part of the chicken too if you prefer boneless, breast meat for example.

We had this as it came, but you could serve with rice, couscous and salad leaves. The below serves 3-4.

Simple Spiced Chicken Tagine 

Here’s how;
  • 6-8 chicken thighs 
  • 1 onions 
  • 2 large cloves garlic 
  • 2 carrots 
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained 
  • 3cm piece of ginger 
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds 
  • 2 tsp cinnamon 
  • 1 tsp turmeric 
  • 2tbsp honey 
  • 100g dried apricots 
  • Sea salt 
  • Black pepper 
  • Water to cover 
  • Drizzle olive oil 
  • Handful parsley and coriander leaves, roughly chopped 

Firstly drizzle the olive oil into a pan and place on a medium heat. Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees.

Season the chicken pieces generously with the sea salt and black pepper.

Now place each chicken piece, skin side down, into the now hot pan and allow to sear for a few minutes or until the skin is nicely golden. Turn over and cook for a few minutes.

In the meantine prepare the vegetables for the tagine. Roughly chop the onion and slice the garlic and add to the tagine.

Peel the carrots and cut into rectangular slices and add to the dish.

Peel the ginger and either slice or grate straight into the tagine.

Half the dried apricots and place into the dish.

Add the chicken and the chickpeas now too.

Now add the cumin seeds, turmeric, cinnamon and honey and stir well.

Pour over cold water until everything is just covered, return the lid to the tagine and place into the oven to cook for 1.5 hours. You can cook it faster at a higher temperature, but low and slow yields fall-off the bone meat.

Remove from the oven after about half of the cooking time to stir then return to the oven.

Remove from the oven and serve with the handful each of coriander and parsley on top.

Simple Spiced Chicken Tagine 

Serve with your choice of accompaniments.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Piskopiano, Crete, A Family Travel Resort

Back in July the girls, my Mum and I  returned from a week's holiday in Crete, staying at the Piskopiano Village Apartments, in the village of the same name on the Heraklion side of the island.

This was my Mum Vicky's third time visiting these apartments in a couple of years, and aside from them being set in a lovely, picturesque resort, I think the owner's warmth and hospitality is what has drawn her back.

Piskopiano is one of three traditional Greek villages that are joined together in a triangular set of roads, the other's being Koutouloufari and Ano Hersonnisos - all slightly in-land, but only 1km from coastal Hersonnisos.To say they are pretty and traditionally Greek, is somewhat of an understatement; I love the islands of Greece and this was only my second visit to Crete, my first in a decade, and I'd definitely like to return.

A beautiful house in Piskopiano
Piskopiano Church by night

The Accommodation

Piskopiano Village Apartments

The apartments themselves, had a very welcoming reception and bar area, all modern in décor and to the 'shabby chic' style, a great place to enjoy an evening beverage before or after a nice meal out. There were two pools, one on each level, as the apartments are set out across two different levels. We were on the lower level, close to the snack bar area, and with the baby pool section inside, which suited us perfectly and we spent our time at this pool.

The apartments also had an area with Little Tykes play equipment, a house, a slide and some swings - which were great of an evening to keep Bridget entertained. The pools had a collection of inflatables, that it seemed everyone shared, which was nice, and there was a really good, friendly atmosphere throughout.

Mum and Beatrice enjoying one of the two pools

The room we had was lovely and spacious, a big, double bedroom with two sofa beds in the living area, a kitchen table and dining chairs and a huge patio terrace. As is the norm in Greece, there was no bath, just a shower, which was fine, we bought a little paddling pool on the first day, and Bridget and Beatrice had some lovely warm, al fresco 'baths' in these.

Bridget and Beatrice in our lovely apartment at Piskopiano Village

The snack bar  at Piskopiano Village is run in full by Maria, daughter-in-law of Mr George, the proprietor, and she works tirelessly, cooking everything from scratch in her immaculate, open plan little kitchen - I was impressed. The snacks on offer included English and continental breakfasts, a variety of toasties and pizzas and a few Greek options - I tried my first ever Dakos (a hard bread rusk topped with grated tomatoes and feta) at Maria's.

Bridget waiting for a milkshake at Maria's bar

Cretan Dakos
We enjoyed a really fun, 'Greek Night' BBQ with traditional bouziki playing and dancing, which was great, and almost the entire inhabitants of the apartments signed up, which I think is testament to how popular the family running the hotel are.

Our first day coincided with the opening of the hotel's new Spa service, and I enjoyed a fantastic 60 minute deep tissue massage in the tranquillity of the Greek hills, with the Mediterranean sea as my backdrop - bliss.

The Villages

Piskopiano Village, Koutouloufari and Ano Hersonissos are such beautiful, traditional Greek villages, I adored them. With a smattering of obvious tourism, there were still the odd touches that screamed old Greece to me. Picturesque blue doors, grapes and pomegranates growing, and of course, elderly Greeks gathered at doors and around tables, speaking animatedly. Just beautiful.

Koutouloufari village

Grapes lining the road on the walk into Ano Hersonissos

Postcard beautiful door

Rustic charm in Piskopiano

The Food

I'm a huge, huge fan of Greek food and Crete did not disappoint at all.

I over-indulged on the fantastic Greek frappe iced coffees every day - there is literally nothing more refreshing in the heat. My Mum and I massively OD'd on taramasalata too, we literally couldn't not order it in pretty much every restaurant.

Big shouts to our favourite restaurants in Piskopiano - Asposperida where the dolmades, calamari and taramasalata were second to none, and Kostas Taverna - quite possibly the most beautiful, traditional looking tavern I've encountered, with a very decent souvlaki and retsina.

Kosta's Taverna

Kosta's Taverna
One of many Taramasalata dishes
Ice cream in a taverna in Ano Hersonissos

In Koutouloufari we had two stand out meals - the first being at Emmanuel Taverna; firstly Bridget who was almost-three at the time, was having an absolute 'terrible twos' evening, and the staff were just fantastic with her and with us; which made a huge difference. Any parent knows eating out with toddlers can be an adventure, and often not a good one, but understanding staff and owners, who immediately told me about their children, nieces, nephews etc, really made us feel at ease with her strop-throwing. Aside from their general pleasantness, the meal we had was sensational, it didn't look the most appetising but tasted so good; their version of a 'Sunday roast' from what Maria at Piskopiano Village explained to me, they like many of the restaurants, had a wood-fired oven and the meats we enjoyed were the restaurant's specialities. I had the slow cooked pork in various herbs and spices, my Mum had the lamb and both were served with village potatoes and vegetables. Absolutely delicious - well worth a visit.

'Meat in the oven'

The other place, where we enjoyed a fantastic, gourmet meal was Gallini's. It's located at the far end of Koutouloufari, and we spotted it on the first day, all Greek pillars, and fine linen tablecloths, the décor was beautiful. The girls nodded off on one of the last afternoons during a walk, and we took our chance with them both safely ensconced in their buggies and I'm so glad we did. It was less 'traditional Greek' and more focused on a finessed style of making the most of the local produce in novel ways. We saw someone enjoying a gorgeous looking shrimp cocktail and had requested the same, but our friendly waiter persuaded us to try the prawns in honey, soy and ginger - what a triumph they were - like a tempura, and half dipped in this sticky, sweet yet sour, moreish sauce. Delicious. We also enjoyed a fine beef carpaccio, and a lemon sole baked in a cream and dill sauce with more prawns - delicious. Slightly more expensive than the other restaurants in the surrounding area, but the service and attention to detail was that bit better.

Beef carpaccio at Gallini's, Koutouloufari

Prawn Tempura, Gallini's

Gorgeous wine at Gallini's

In main Hersonnisos, we had a few meals too, a couple of casual ones, and then the meal of the holiday at the lovely Karavi restaurant. Karavi is a café-restaurant and lounge - with a section to the beach and then a pool and sun lounge area, very modern, and chic. Mum and I both opted for the Lobster Soup - which was absolutely gorgeous, served in a rich, tomatoey bisque and with a whole lobster tail, full of soft, perfectly cooked, sweet lobster meat, it was to die for. I followed mine with a seafood linguini which was also perfection - different to other seafood linguinis I've had elsewhere too, finished with a milder sauce with a hint of dill running through, and generous with the seafood, including mussels, clams and prawns - really lovely. Well worth a visit to Karavi if you're in the area.

Seafood Linguini at Karavi

Lobster Soup at Karavi

Family Activities

Star Beach 

Star Beach is a great Hersonnisos beach-front waterpark with lots going on for both older teenagers down to tots. Both of my girls really enjoyed the shallow splash pools, and Bridget loved the various toddler-sized slides, sprinklers and climbing frames set within the water. It's an inexpensive place to have a great family day or afternoon in the sunshine.

Bridget enjoying Star Beach

Hersonisssos Train Tour is another hour-long activity which takes  you around the main tourist points in the area, and which we really enjoyed.

The beach itself, isn't the most sandy, but there is sand, there is sea and frankly with children of Bridget and Beatrice's age, what else do you need? Equally most places will allow you into their pool, so long as you are happy to buy some food or drink on their premises, so if you did fancy a day or a few hours away from your own pool, you can change the scene easily.

Greeks are notoriously good on hospitality and when children are involved, they're just fantastic. My two had a wonderful holiday and so did Mum and I - great memories to be treasured. I would thoroughly reccommend Crete and Piskopiano as a family resort and will undoubtedly return.

A wonderful family holiday

Friday, 27 October 2017

Cooking with Kids: Spooky Halloween Chocolate Spider Biscuits

This is a really fun, quick and easy way of getting the kids involved in making some Halloween treats at home. 

I use Oreo’s as they’re sturdier than single-layer biscuits, but you could adapt this to whatever round biscuits you have in the house. I also use liquorice sticks as the spider legs, but this could just as easily be cola laces. Equally for eyes, I’ve used mini marshmallows with a little dot of melted chocolate, and for the lips some red jelly lips, but these could both be icing pens otherwise. I serve on a bed of spooky sweets, white chocolate mice, jelly snakes etc.

Spooky Halloween Chocolate Spider Biscuits

The below makes 8 spiders.

Here’s how:

  • 1 pack original Oreo's
  • 200g milk chocolate
  • Pack of liquorice sticks
  • 16 mini marshmallows
  • Red jelly lips sweets
Firstly cut the liquorice sticks down to quarter size, ensuring you have enough for 8 little legs, per spider - you’ll have 8 in total as a normal pack has 16 biscuits. Set aside.

Place a sheet of baking paper on the side to capture any mess of the assembly of the spiders.

Break up the chocolate into a china bowl and melt over a pan of recently boiled water. Use a wooden spoon to move the chocolate around and encourage it to melt. 

Now you need to work fairly quickly at this point. Once fully melted, use a pastry brush to cover one side of 8 of the cookies with the melted chocolate. Bow rearrange the eight spider legs accordingly so they are dangling down, and one part is just pressed down into the soft, melted chocolate; this will act as your glue. Now, take one of the other Oreo's (the ones that were set aside and haven’t had chocolate on them) directly on top of the chocolate coating and legs and press down firmly. 

Now brush on some more chocolate on top if the spiders ‘faces’ and assemble the faces. Position the two marshmallow eyes accordingly and press down so they stick into the chocolate, and then do the same with the sweetie lips. 

Finally use a skewer or a coctail stick, dip the end into the remaining melted chocolate and touch the middle of the marshmallow eyes for pupils. 

Leave to set for half hour then arrange onto spooky sweets, or however you are serving. Enjoy!

Some other ideas for keeping the kids occupied with a Halloween theme can be found below:

Friday, 20 October 2017

Pastitsio - The Greek Lasagna

If you've never had the pleasure before, Pastitsio is often referred to as the 'Greek Lasagna' or 'Pasta Pie'. Instead of the thin lasagna sheets of the Italian variety, tubular pasta is used, and a thicker version of the bechamel sauce sits atop the finished dish. 

For me it evokes some fantastic memories of two summers, and countless holidays spent in Corfu in my twenties - great times, and the beginning of my love affair with Greek food, one of my favourite cuisines that I think is hugely underrated. What's more, this is a hearty, family classic, a crowd pleaser, and is devoured every time I cook it.

For my pastitsio I use the typically Greek method of thickening the bechamel sauce, adding a beaten egg once the sauce is off the heat, as well as Greek yoghurt, it just helps the sauce hold together more firmly once baked. I have used penne here, as I simply had some in the cupboard, but it also works with the more traditional bucatini or rigatoni - any tubular pasta.

Also I like to reduce the meat sauce right down by cooking for at least an hour and a half as a traditional Pastitsio is easily distinguishable by it's definite layers, rather that an oozing meat sauce moving into the layers below. I use a lot less pasta for a family sized Pastitsio than in a traditional dish too as it lightens it up hugely! 


Pastitsio - Greek Lasagna

The below comfortably serves six.

Here's how:
  • 300g tubular pasta - I use penne 
  • 500g steak or beef mince
  • 1 white onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 large tomatoes
  • 250g passata 
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 glass of red wine
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Pinch sea salt
  • Pinch black pepper
For the topping:
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 200ml milk
  • 1 tbsp creme fraiche
  • 2 tbsp Greek yoghurt (plain natural yoghurt will also be fine)
  • Bayleaf
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 3 tsp nutmeg
  • 100g Reggiano Parmigiano or other hard cheese

First prepare the meat sauce. Begin by finely dicing and mincing the garlic and adding to a heavy bottomed pan with the olive oil to soften and flavour the oil.

Roughly chop the tomatoes and set aside for the minute. 

Once the onion and garlic is softened add the meat to the pan to brown off. You can season with salt and pepper at this point and also add the cinnamon. Use a wooden spatula to break up the meat as it cooks and avoid any clumps. 

Once browned, add the chopped tomatoes and cook for several minutes, then add the passata, tomato puree, red wine, oregano and thyme and mix well. Now leave to cook for at least an hour, or more if you have the time.

The meat sauce for pastitsio

To make the topping sauce, add the butter to a non-stick frying pan and place on a low-medium heat and allow to melt. Add the flour a bit at a time, and use a balloon whisk or just a wooden spoon to mix thoroughly, repeat until all of the flour is added and then slowly add the milk, in the same process, stirring and pressing the floury bits down, till it all becomes one. Once all the milk is added, add the bayleaf and the black pepper and grate over the nutmeg. Be really generous with the nutmeg this is an important, flavour, and with the egg and yoghurt that will be added later, this delicate flavour can get lost if you're too cautious.

Add the grated cheese, retaining just enough to scatter over the top, and stir through, until combined. The sauce should slowly thicken. Whilst still on the heat, stir through the creme fraiche until combined then take off the heat. The sauce should be thick and glossy at this stage. Now add the Greek yoghurt and stir through, which will bring the temperature of the sauce down. Finally beat the egg in a separate bowl and then stir this through the sauce, which will thicken it further. Now set aside while you cook the pasta.

Cook the pasta according to packet instructions and then drain and allow to cool for a few moments, until cool enough to handle. 

In the dish you'll be baking the Pastitsio, arrange one layer of pasta. It's traditional to have all the tubular shapes facing the same way and be in a pattern, as I have done with the penne here.

Layer one - pastitsio

Once that's done, spread over the meat sauce, make sure all the pasta is covered. 

Layer two - the meat sauce - pastitsio

On top of the meat sauce, add the final layer of pasta, again try to organise neatly, as it will hold together nicer when you serve. 

Once the meat topping is completely covered in pasta, pour over the thickened sauce, and use a knife or the back of a spoon to spread over all of the pasta shapes. 


Add a final grating of nutmeg, scatter over the cheese and a season again. Leave for at least 30 minutes before baking, again, this just helps to hold the final shape.


Place into a pre-heated oven at 180-200degrees and bake for 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Serve with a salad of your choice and enjoy!


Some other favourite Greek recipes of mine:
Briam (Vegetable Stew)